Over the past holiday week, I had the very special opportunity to speak with the creators of Image Comics and Man of Action Entertainment’s “Four Eyes” creators – Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara. “Four Eyes” is an original series, began more than five years ago, and tells the story of a young boy in an alternate 1930’s New York who lives in a world filled with “underground fighting, gangsters, and monsters.” It’s a series I’ve personally been a fan of and one What’cha Reading has spoken of before. When Image Comics reached out to us in regards of speaking with Mr. Joe Kelly and Mr. Max Fiumara in regards to “Four Eyes: Hearts of Fire” (out today), I jumped at the chance.
Steven Biscotti – I’d like to start by saying thank you for taking the time in speaking with me on behalf of What’cha Reading. I’ve been a fan of “Four Eyes” since it started and, boy, has this been a worthwhile commitment. It’s great to see a series still in existence after more than five years, but going into 2016, we’re only on our second story arc. I’d like to ask both of you about the conception of the idea to present “Four Eyes” as a series of story arcs and of what the schedule has been like for both of you in getting “Hearts of Fire” ready for the readers.
Max Fiumara – Hi Steven. Joe and I always wanted to keep going telling this story. Our different works and schedules keep us away from the book, but it was always our intention to come back to “Four Eyes.” We love the book and are so happy we managed to come back for this new arc. Also we have the help from guest artist Rafael Ortiz [and he]is doing two issues of this arc. Without him we wouldn’t be able do it.
Joe Kelly – I can’t stress enough how much we love “Four Eyes.” This story is very close to our hearts, but as Max said, other things have pulled at our schedules. This is a blessing and a curse – we’re busy, Max and I have work that we enjoy – but “Four Eyes” had been neglected for a while. That said, we have a plan as we move forward from this arc that will help us tell the complete story. Getting Rafael to help was a good step for us.
Steven Biscotti – Joe, I’d like to ask about the development of the current story arc. I’ve read all positive comments concerning your work on the series, one particular person wrote “my pull list misses [Joe Kelly].” That must be a bit of an ego boost to know people have responded that well to your work. What has your relationship been like working with Image, especially in regards to your partnership on this title? And have you found fan reception to your creator owned properties to be met with the same enthusiasm as, let’s say, Superman?
Joe Kelly – It’s always meaningful for me when a reader wants more work. It’s fantastic to get that sort of a response. Also, I thrive on guilt, so it helps push me along!
Image has been amazing to work with. They’re supportive, patient when they need to be but also know when to crack the whip and get me in line. Honestly, it feels like a home because all of the furniture is mine, you know? Even if I don’t do as much furnishing as I’d like!
As far as response to my indie work vs. mainstream, in the moment I don’t usually see a differentiation, but over the long run the independent work strikes people deeper, it seems. I think it’s because they’re discovering new characters and worlds as opposed to stepping in to a new take on an established character. Also, I get to put endings on my stories, and that helps a lot.
Steven Biscotti – Dragons and tommy guns. If I’m not mistaken, I believe that was one of the first ideas you had while exploring various “kooky” ideas. Was there anything specific about dragons and gangsters that stood out to you? Was there something about those ideas and themes that you’ve always wanted to explore?
Joe Kelly – It was a single image that came to me: A barefoot kid on a cobblestone street with a Tommy Gun and a Dragon. Sometimes it just works like that. A snapshot. Some of those bloom into something else, others wait for more connective tissue to form around them.
The real breakthrough that turned a vision of Enrico and “Four Eyes” to a story was the Great Depression. Setting it there unlocked themes for me and gave it a shape I could work with. Ultimately, this is a story about how people maintain their humanity when they are surrounded by monsters. They were doling that out every day in the Great Depression. Some people rally. Some people fall, etc. That’s compelling grist for the mill.
Steven Biscotti – Max, the dragons and tommy guns aspect I’m aware was Joe’s idea. How much of yourself have you brought to “Four Eyes”? Have there been any ideas or character/story flourishes that you’re particularly fond of? Anything you’d love the readers and fans to be aware of?
Max Fiumara – What I love about the book is that Joe and I are so connected and on the same page as to how the story should be told, I’m reading his scripts and it is like he’s reading my mind. I love every aspect of this world and when I started doing designs and background work, Joe found that it was exactly what he’d wanted.
I have to say that I put a lot in creating the looks of Enrico, I needed him to be the perfect version of the character, he’s the driving force and he’s very much alive for us.
With the rest of the designs it was basically me doing what I saw in the scripts and going back and forth with Joe. Fox, the trainer, was the only character that Joe had thought as a white person, and for some reason I saw him as a black person. That changed a bit this character’s backstory and let Joe play more with the different racial problems as the way black people were treated in the 30’s.
Steven Biscotti – I’d love to hear about the relationship you both have with one another – writer to artist/artist to writer. Joe, the idea for “Four Eyes” was 2007 or so? What has it been like for the both of you to have all these characters living in both of your imaginations for so long and, more than five years later, to still be working on? I must add that I’ve greatly enjoyed “Four Eyes” and, as a fan first and foremost, it’s almost surreal that this story is still being spoken of.
Max Fiumara – Thanks! Yes, It’s quite surreal!
We always wanted to come back to “Four Eyes”, we know where the story is going and we needed to tell it until it’s over. That’s our plan. We love the story.
Our relationship is wonderful, as I said before, we think very much the same way, and are connected to the story so much. But basically Joe writes the scripts and I work on layouts based on them. And from there we go back and forth with notes. But it all works more in our telepathic connection!
Joe Kelly – The telepathy helps! Max and I have a great relationship. He’s easygoing but passionate about this world and the story, so he knows when to dig in. He’s taken something fantastical and grounded it in reality. I’m literally blown away when I get his pages – which I tell him all the time.
One of the best compliments we ever got was someone telling me they thought the book was written and drawn by the same person. I love that.
Steven Biscotti – Do you feel there’s a timelessness to the story that has given it such an enduring quality? Or, has it just been everyone’s extremely busy schedule? Ha ha. Either way, it’s great to see “Four Eyes” return.
Max Fiumara – I wish I could say the first one is true, but in fact it is our tight schedules that are the main reason for the lengthy break we’ve taken.
Joe Kelly – We’ve apologized a lot for delays, but the truth is entertainment as a whole has changed in terms of how its delivered to the consumer. I can think of countless examples – Game of Thrones, Lost, Bone, etc. – where there were long stretches of time between chunks. The cool thing is that because Max’s art is so strong and the story is timeless, a patient reader is happy we’re back, but a brand new reader can discover the book and they’re only 4 issues behind. I’m not suggesting that we want to be that slow, I just think that a book finds an audience, even if it’s a little slow.
Steven Biscotti – Max, I’m aware that Joe had originally expressed that he envisioned a more European feel to the story. More so “Blacksad” than “Infinity Inc.” What was your initial reaction to this? Were you excited to deliver a more expressive and, dare I say, “cartoony” take on the story and characters? As an artist, do you enjoy embracing these kind of challenges? And, did you feel that was a challenge or an engaging exercise of sorts?
Max Fiumara – You put it quite well. I love this kind of challenges, but I also wasn’t at all happy with my art in “Infinity inc.” I always had a thing for more cartoony characterization but keeping a sense of realism at the same time. Joe gave me this awesome chance and guided me to do something looser with the style. He did mention “Blacksad” and I took that as a reference, but I started to add a lot from animation in my art, and also looked at a lot of European artists. Nicolas De Crecy was a big influence in breaking my style and going for something less Classic American comic book style.
Steven Biscotti – Joe, in an interview with Newsarama, back in 2008, you had expressed that your only regret was that you hadn’t worked on more creator owned properties. Here, in 2015, I’d say you’ve definitely spent more time … working … on creator owned properties. I’ve greatly admired you and Max’s work and I’d like to ask if while you’ve been working on “Four Eyes” and your other projects, have there been any ideas that you’ve ended up using for something else? Or are there ideas that have come out of “Four Eyes” that will be utilized elsewhere?
Joe Kelly – I have been working on a lot of stuff – some of which you’ll hear about going into next year, but nothing that came from “Four Eyes.” That’s all its own universe built by Max and I. At this point in my career, I only care about finishing things. I’m cutting free a lot of dead weight – stories that I have been “working on” for a long time because they’re just not there for me anymore. I only want to work on stuff I love, like “Four Eyes”, and to the degree that I can, that’s what I’m going to do.
Steven Biscotti – I’d also like to ask, since Special Edition NYC, “Mega Man” was announced and we touched briefly on that. Is there anything new that you could speak of regarding the series?
Joe Kelly – Nope! Sorry. We are having fun, though! : )
Steven Biscotti – On behalf of What’cha Reading and myself, I’d like to extend a big thank you to both of you, again, for spending some time in speaking with me. Especially over this busy Holiday week. I’d like to conclude by asking you both: In one word, what can readers/fans expect from “Four Eyes: Hearts of Fire”?
Max Fiumara – Heartbreak.
Joe Kelly – Betrayal.
Steven Biscotti – … and two – What’cha reading? Is there anything of particular interest that you’d like to recommend? Maybe something European?
Max Fiumara – Well I haven’t been able to read much lately but I loved “This one Summer”, “The Nao of Brown” and “The Creep.”
Joe Kelly – “Saga”, Stephen King’s new book of short stories, Urasawa’s “Monster” and a bunch of other stuff!
Steven Biscotti – Thanks again.
*What’cha Reading and Steven Biscotti would like to thank Brenda Feldman of Man of Action Entertainment, along with Briah Skelly of Image Comics for arranging this interview. We’d also like to thank Mr. Joe Kelly & Mr. Max Fiumara for spending some time with us.
Man of Action Entertainment, the bi-coastal creative studio started in 2000, created the megahit Ben 10 and Generator Rex for Cartoon Network. Man of Action, a writers collective, served as co-executive producer and writer for Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man and is currently an executive producer/writer for Marvel’s Avengers Assemble on Disney XD. Man of Action Entertainment consists of creators Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle. Disney/Marvel’s Academy Award®-winning feature Big Hero 6 utilized the characters and team created by Man of Action as credited in the main titles. The film marked the first time Disney turned Marvel comic book characters into an animated film and is also the first film based on a comic book I.P. to win an Academy Award®.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Max has worked in comics since 2002, for Avatar Press, Marvel, DC and Dark Horse. His titles range from Amazing Spider-man, Namor and Hulk smash Avengers to Infinity, inc and the zombie tale Black Gas with writer Warren Ellis. In 2008, he co-created the book Four Eyes with his Spider-man writer Joe Kelly, published by MoA and Image comics. Since 2012, he’s been working alongside Mike Mignola on B.P.R.D. And he shares the art duties with his twin brother Sebastian in the ongoing series Abe Sapien.
@maxfiumara on Twitter and you can also find him on Facebook
Be sure to check out my past interview with Joe Kelly & Steven T. Seagle from Special Edition NYC here and be sure to check out “I Kill Giants” by Joe Kelly. What’cha Reading E.I.C. Chuck included that in Five Great Graphic Novels That Should Be On Your Shelf.
“Four Eyes: Hearts of Fire” issue 1 is out now. Please visit www.comicshoplocator.com to find a store closest to you.
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